Sunday, 6 September 2009

Exploitation – good or bad?

If I read about the exploits of James Bond or Batman, or some other fictional hero, then I am usually amused and entertained by what I read. If I hear about the exploits of a politician, I am, perhaps, less enthralled – wondering what devious deeds have occurred. So the noun, “exploits”, carries a slightly more positive mixed message. But what about the words exploitation?

Wikipedia ( informs us that the term “exploitation” has two distinct meanings:
1 The act of using something for any purpose. In this case, exploit is a synonym for use.
2 The act of using something in an unjust or cruel manner.

So if the word has two meaning, what sort of problems are we, the mainframing public, going to have when we read two different opinions about a piece of software that exploits a piece of hardware? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Yet again, I’m talking about that software bombshell called zPrime from NEON Enterprise Software. Those of you who know exactly what the software does, look away now! For everyone else, here’s a very brief overview. IBM builds mainframes and charges users by how much processing they do using the General Purpose Processor. In addition, IBM has specialty processors, which can be used for Linux, DB2, and Java. These are paid for, but then users save each month because they are not processing these applications using the GPPs. So, IBM gets its regular income from CICS, IMS, batch, TSO/ISPF, etc, etc, which do use GPPs. But what if, you could run CICS, etc in a specialty processor? Wouldn’t that save lots of dosh each month? That’s what NEON must have thought because that’s exactly what their zPrime software allows to happen. Ordinary mainframers save money – even after paying NEON for the software – but IBM loses anticipated revenue. Mainframes become more affordable, but still IBM loses revenue. What happens next?

I think that IBM is in a very difficult position with this. Obviously they can do sabre rattling about breaking licence agreements with current customers, and try to maintain the flow of revenue each month, but, if the price of running a mainframe was significantly lower, wouldn’t that attract more people to buy mainframes? Those mid-sized companies that are wresting with virtualizing their servers and solving problems that mainframers take for granted as being standard practice, might well view a mainframe as a very competitively-priced opportunity. IBM must look to the future and see this as an opportunity. And I wonder whether this is contributing to their kind of half-hearted response.

Admittedly, IBM has other considerations. For example, the more it blusters against zPrime, the more oxygen of publicity it gives it – and, as a consequence, the more sites that are likely to try it. Also, if IBM were to somehow ban the use of zPrime on its computers, that could lead to a lengthy court case. So, at the moment, IBM is simply telling customers to check their contracts to ensure they’re not breaking them by using zPrime. This seems little more than a non-specific scare tactic. After all, no contracts were written with zPrime even dreamed about. People signing new contracts might want their legal teams to check whether there’s anything in it about zPrime, but I haven’t heard of such sentences being included.

If you want my advice, and you didn’t ask, I’d get on the phone to NEON and get them to try it at my site. For NEON, exploiting specialty processors is a good thing. For IBM it isn’t. That’s their two different views of exploitation of specialty processors.

As a tailpiece of advice – while I’m in the mood – if I ran IBM, I’d be looking to buy NEON about now.


Anonymous said...

Some of the thought over here is that it is better to avoid this product until this all shakes out. Rather not cross IBM.

Bryan said...

Exploitation - good or bad?

Trevor, thanks for your balanced article of 6th September considering NEON’s zPrime from a user’s perspective.

You recommend trialling but we can see from NEON’s website news today that “83 Sites Trial NEON zPrime In First 60 days” – so they now need advice on how to achieve the immediate TCO improvements that their boards are pressed to deliver in this tough economic climate.

I’m suggesting 3 generalised questions which IBM might consider. But while generalised questions and answers may provide some general clarification, it would be my recommendation that each interested or involved System z user should request, as Mark Anzani suggests in the final paragraph of his letter, a specific and customised response from IBM to the users business and technical mainframe cost reduction intentions with NEON’s zPrime – for example through the user sharing their trial reports with IBM to show planned workload changes.

A customised IBM response will ensure that the user’s legal position is quickly clarified and work can then proceed with current year cost reduction efforts without fear of IBM authorisation or contract issues later.

In the event of a lack of an appropriate response within a pre-notified period, the System z user is then in a safe position to proceed with their plans having given IBM a reasonable opportunity to respond.

My generalised questions related to the IBM letter dated August 24th 2009:

Question 1: IBM states that it “has been taking actions to substantially reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (“TCO”) per unit of work performed on the IBM System z infrastructure”. However it is clear that most new applications are now being hosted on in non-mainframe environments as these are accepted as lower TCO options. IBM is clearly not achieving TCO reductions fast enough to meet market needs, despite appearing to have the technical capability to do so. IBM also appears to be objecting when clients and ISV’s identify alternative methods to achieve this. Has IBM become more focused on its short term profits than the vitality of the mainframe market and its mainframe client’s needs?

Question 2: IBM says that it only allows authorized uses of System z hardware and software and that any additional use is a 'breach of applicable agreements'. So far I am not aware that anyone has been able to identify which agreements these are and where the specific authorization and breach clauses are to be found, or how they might relate to tools such as NEON’s zPrime. IBM’s letter says “taking actions to interfere with the normal and intended operation of z/OS” would be an issue, yet Stephen Heffner of Pennington Systems Inc (an independent expert witness) has verified NEON zPrime’s legitimacy. Can IBM now identify for its mainframe users exactly where the relevant clauses can be found, so that they might validate their position and proceed promptly with their cost reduction efforts?

Question 3: In the final paragraph it is stated that “Customers seeking to expand their use of existing hardware (e.g., Specialty Engines/Processors) for use with additional workloads should contact their IBM representative regarding additional authorizations and applicable pricing”. Can IBM provide one or more example licensing or contractual scenarios where a client’s planned production use of NEON’s zPrime or similar specialty engine exploiting tools and techniques requires IBM's authorizations or pricing changes?


Prof. Bryan Foss